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The First Year Experience program goes virtual at UofGH

Making the transition from high school to university can be challenging – especially in these uncertain times. The First Year Experience (FYE) program at the University of Guelph-Humber helps to ease that transition, grouping new UofGH students with current students in the same program who provide mentorship, resources and support.

This year, it’s happening virtually – and it’s more popular than ever.

Beginning in June, the FYE program offered pre-arrival mentorship to all students beginning their studies in Fall 2020, including first-years, transfer students, and students in part-time online/hybrid programs. That incoming class is divided into groups of 35-60 students, each led by an FYE Leader who messages each student in the group, provides important information and deadlines, answers questions, and helps students connect with each other.

Programming continues all the way until the end of the academic year and includes monthly emails, community-building activities, social media contests, and skill development seminars. New students continued to receive important information and check-ins from their FYE Leaders as well.

“It really is a full-year commitment to supporting our new students through their first year at UofGH,” said Jessica Pilfold, Student Life Coordinator. “Co-curricular engagement has been really high, with more students attending FYE sessions and society events than in previous years.

“Students aren’t meeting one another in class the same way as when we’re on campus, so these online activities help students meet each other, especially new students who may not know many of their classmates yet.”

Enjoying campus life virtually

The FYE program is one of many Student Life initiatives that are being offered online this year.

Orientation became fully virtual, including live Q&A chats with Program Heads and Assistant Program Heads, FYE Socials, and the launch of the Student Success Guide, a series of self-paced workshops on Enrich available to all students. With support from the University of Guelph and Humber College, Student Life compiled key resources and support services to create workshops around crucial aspects of having a successful semester: getting ready for classes; academic success; campus resources and more.

In addition, a new initiative called Swoop into Success Month was created to highlight services and student organizations for all students. From Sept. 8 to Oct. 2, students took part in all sorts of activities aimed at supporting their social, learning, and personal wellness needs as they started the virtual semester.

Student Life, like all of Student Services at UofGH, have also transitioned to online support for all students. Society events, FYE sessions, CliftonStrengths workshops, and more have all moved to Microsoft Teams and social media.

FYE Leader Vic Duarte says that taking FYE programming online has only inspired her team to work harder to help the newest members of the UofGH community thrive.

“As a Senior FYE Leader, I believe that my role in replicating the energy and spirit that we usually see at the UofGH in an online environment always begins with my team. The energy we share as a team is what then gets invested into our newest cohort of students and my goal is to give Leaders the tools to succeed and feel confident in their roles,” said Duarte, a fourth-year Justice Studies student.

“In practice, virtual mentorship looks like more workshops, more check-ins, and full-scale brainstorming sessions to produce the best content for students. The 2020-2021 FYE Leaders are remarkably bright individuals and it is a real honour to be a mentor to them and of course to learn with them as we all navigate this unique semester.”

A leadership opportunity

The FYE program is just one of many ways that UofGH students can get involved and enrich their University experience. From joining clubs and societies to participating in student government or the Consent Peer Education Program, there are many ways for students to make the most of their time at the University of Guelph-Humber.

“Getting involved in the campus community offers students the ability to create their own UofGH story,” Pilfold said. “The student experience extends beyond the (virtual) walls of a classroom. Engagement opportunities build upon the reasons students come to UofGH in the first place: a tight-knit supportive community and a unique learning environment with a customized approach. 

“Sometimes ‘getting involved’ is viewed as an additional component to being a university student, and another task to manage,” Pilfold added. “I challenge students to consider the transferrable skills, personal growth, and peer support that come with being an engaged member of the campus community.

“I’ve never spoken with a student that regretted their co-curricular engagement, but I’ve spoken to plenty that wished they’d been more involved before they graduated.”

And to any students considering taking on a mentorship role in the future, FYE Leaders attest that it’s not just the new students who benefit from taking part.

It’s a mutually beneficial experience.

“It’s a rare and unique experience where you’re able to communicate with a diverse group of people. You learn how to respond to certain situations and the difference between informal/formal communication. You learn to be more attentive in conversations listening to people’s comments, ideas, and being empathetic towards people’s feelings,” said FYE Leader Jaslynda Bains, a fourth-year Business student.

“I decided to take part in FYE because I absolutely loved (and still love) what the program stands for,” Duarte added. “FYE is about mentorship and community-building, primarily for first years, but really for the benefit of the entire UofGH community. When first-year students feel capable and confident in their experiences, the future and direction of UofGH just gets brighter. I liked the idea of working with students from different programs and encouraging others to see the UofGH as a safe place to blossom.

“The FYE program is the epitome of the snowball effect: one small, kind gesture or action is enough to make students unstoppable and as a Leader and student, that’s something I want for everyone who is a part of the UofGH.”